April 18, 2011; Source: Los Angeles Times | We still don’t really know how to interpret the meanings we should attach to the proportion of income dedicated by a political candidate to charity or to the specific charitable choices a candidate might make. 

The Obamas just released their 2010 tax returns, and unlike the rest of us, as politicians they release details about which charities receive their charitable donations.  The Obamas donated 14 percent of their $1.73 million income—roughly $245,000—to 36 charities.  Receiving the largest amount, $131,000, basically the proceeds from Obama’s children’s book, Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters, was the Fisher House Foundation that builds “comfort homes” for the families of wounded veterans at military and VA centers so that families can stay close to their loved ones during hospitalizations. 

The Obamas also gave the Clinton Bush Haiti Project $15,000 and the Boys and Girls Club of America $10,000.  The remainder of their donations were small $1,000-$5,000 grants to various service charities in Washington, Chicago, and elsewhere (including a $5,000 donation to the tony Sidwell Friends School where Malia and Natasha attend school, presumably a de rigeur donation from wealthy parents at the school, though the typical Obama donation in DC went to food pantries such as Bread for the City and Miriam’s Kitchen).  The Obamas’ full tax return may be viewed here with their charitable donations listed on Schedule A, Statement 7. 

In comparison, the Bidens only allocated 1.4 percent of their combined $379,000 income to charity, actually only $4,400 in cash contributions plus $950 (fair market value) in clothing and household goods donations to groups along the lines of Goodwill.  The Veep’s spokesperson felt compelled to explain the small numbers, saying “”the charitable donations claimed by the Bidens on their tax returns are not the sum of their annual contributions to charity…[as] (t)hey contribute to many causes with their time, as well as their checkbooks.” 

Does this information tell you anything useful and relevant about whether or not the candidates deserve your vote?—Rick Cohen